CHICAGO — It didn’t take long for junior safety Aaron Williams to make an impression on Bob Elliott. Nebraska’s new safeties coach had only been on the job a month when he was asked to name some early standouts from spring practice, but a month was enough.
“Aaron Williams is as smart a player as I’ve ever been around,” Elliott said in March. He had been a football coach for nearly 40 years at that point.
“He’s grasping things that I never dreamed that a safety could grasp this quickly. I really feel good about him. He’s going to be a pleasure to coach … He’s a very good communicator, he thinks conceptually. If you just memorize assignments in football, you’re going to make some mistakes and you’re not going to be consistent. But Aaron has a way of conceptualizing the coverages and the assignments; he puts things with each other in packages in his mind.”
Mike Riley watched a relationship develop quickly between the veteran football coach and the rising football player, calling it a “great marriage” even if it was a little unexpected. It was also one that was tragically cut short when Elliott passed away in July.
“I’d walk down to the dining hall and I’d see those two guys, 63-year-old defensive backs coach and Aaron Williams having lunch together,” Riley said. “That was a fun, fun picture for me. I love that. I hope, and I know he did, Aaron gathered as much from Bob as he could in that time.”
Williams made it clear at Big Ten Media Day on Tuesday that Elliott’s respect for him was reciprocated.
“I didn’t view him as a football coach, and he didn’t like to be viewed as that,” Williams said. “He was an outstanding football coach, but he wanted a more personal relationship with you. He might walk past you and ask how your day’s going. He wanted to know about your day, your family, that kind of stuff. He wasn’t so much concerned with the X’s and O’s but he wanted to know you as a person.
Williams’ nickname for Elliott was O.G.E. – O.G. Elliot.
“You know the O.G.’s? The older guys people look up to? I called him O.G.E. because he was the older guy that we looked up to. He had a lot of wisdom,” Williams said.
The safety’s fan club doesn’t end at Elliott, however. Williams wasn’t scheduled to attend media days, but he was tapped as a replacement for injured cornerback Chris Jones and had something of a star-making turn with the media, which didn’t come as a surprise to Riley.
“I have appreciated Aaron Williams from the beginning,” he said. “He is really a smart, intelligent, aware football player. He is fearless, he’s a really good person, he’s a good teammate. That’s why as a younger player he’s here. He’s a guy that everybody in Nebraska would want me to put front and center in front of the nation.”
And if you go back to what Elliott, a football lifer, had to say about Williams in March, it may not be long before the nation finds out about the Husker safety. If that comes to pass, there will be a piece of Elliott in there.
“He taught me a lot about the game of football that I never knew,” Williams said. “I keep doing what he told me to do. A person like that tells you to do some stuff, you’re going to keep doing that.”